“You don’t know Jack” runs the tagline for Bryan Singer’s take on Jack and the Beanstalk. Neither, it seems, do critics. The decidedly sniffy notices given to this film are extremely unfair. Jack the Giant Slayer is a hugely satisfying adventure romp for all the family that sadly seems to have died at the box office (in the US at least). If you’re looking for an uncomplicated, action-packed spectacle with brave, likeable heroes, hissable villains and huge giants, this really hits the spot. Fee Fi Ho Hum it ain’t.
The plot follows the fairy tale to a point, with Jack (Nicholas Hoult) trading a horse (instead of a cow) for mystical beans that end up producing a massive beanstalk. However, added into the mix is a love story with Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who ends up a prisoner of the giants at the top of the beanstalk. The King (Ian McShane) lets Jack attempt a rescue with his knights, alongside their commander Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the villainous Roderick (Stanley Tucci), who has his own agenda for making contact with the giants.
Really I’m at a loss to understand why people haven’t taken to this film. It has a sharp, witty screenplay with fine performances from the appealing leads and supporting cast (McGregor in particular is great fun). Special effects are tremendous, and John Ottman contributes an appropriately old-fashioned, rousing music score. (MINOR SPOILER AHEAD) The final act will satisfy the inner eight-year old in everyone, with a cracking castle under siege that roars to life in a melee of throwing star windmills, hurled burning trees, machine-gun type bow and arrow devices, grappling hooks, battering rams and one or two hugely inventive ways of despatching those pesky giants. The final coda is also very clever.
If I had to pick nits, I’d say the prologue, where the history of the giants is recounted, doesn’t work quite as well as a similar prologue in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. This is because Singer chose to use deliberately unfinished CGI to stylise the sequence, but I would have preferred either hand drawn animation or stop motion. Still, that’s a minor nit.
As expected, old fashioned virtues of courage and loyalty are extolled, alongside an implied but clear message that everyone is here for a reason and has a destiny to fulfil. There is also a fascinating, perhaps unintended parallel with Christian spiritual warfare, in the Ephesians 6-esque idea that between Heaven and Earth reside principalities and powers of the air (so to speak) that threaten mankind. This idea has always been present in the original fairytale, but is brought to the fore here with explicit references to God, Christian beliefs and prayer.
Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t going to change the face of cinema, but it’s still a far better addition to the recent canon of fairy tale movies than, say, the anaemic Snow White and the Huntsman. If you want a good bit of adventurous fun, you could do far worse. My eight year old and I both left the cinema with huge grins on our faces.
One final point: see it in 3D if you can. It’s worth it for a single, amazing shot where a character flees in the foreground whilst a giant lurks in the background, before pounding towards his prey, scooping him up, and moving his face towards the camera until his eye appears be right next to the viewer’s face.